Next consortium in pole position to buy Philip Green’s Topshop empire

Top shop

A consortium that includes high street giant Next is thought to be in pole position to buy Sir Philip Green’s Topshop empire out of administration.

Arcadia, which employed 13,000 people across 500 outlets at the time of last year’s collapse, is being auctioned, with Monday being the deadline for final bids.

Next, which has partnered with the US hedge fund Davidson Kempner, is pitted against Authentic Brands, the US owner of the Barneys department store, which has been linked to a joint bid with JD Sports.

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group and online retailer Boohoo have also been circling. Administrators from Deloitte hope to complete the sale by the end of this month.

Arcadia, which Green bought for £850m in 2002, is home to a stable of household names including Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Miss Selfridge and Burton. Evans, its plus-size clothing brand, has already been hived off and sold to City Chic Collective, an Australian retailer, for £23m.

Arcadia has been the biggest corporate casualty of the pandemic, which has hammered high-street retailers. The high-street closures proved to be the final straw for the group, which had suffered years of flagging sales amid heavy competition from rivals such as Boohoo and Primark. It only narrowly avoided administration in 2019 after landlords agreed rent reductions and store closures.

Next’s chief executive, Simon Wolfson, has confirmed its interest in Arcadia, but said it was “only interested in the brands that we think are very, very good” and would be a minority shareholder in any new venture.

If victorious, the Next consortium is expected to work with Arcadia’s existing management. Stores could be saved if landlords were willing to link rents to sales, according to the Sunday Times. The Evans deal resulted in the closure of all its outlets as the new owners plan to sell its clothing online only.

Wolfson said its involvement in Arcadia would be in similar vein to its Victoria’s Secret joint venture, where Next operates the stores and website but has no part in developing the ranges. The FTSE 100 retailer has been expanding its portfolio of brands over the past year, including through licensing deals with Ted Baker and the new owners of Laura Ashley, which also went into administration in 2020.

In the wake of the BHS scandal, which saw Green eventually agreeing to pay £363m into the company’s depleted pension pot, the failure of Arcadia has thrown the spotlight on its own scheme, which has an estimated £350m deficit. The family is making a promised £50m payment a year early and has also signed over some Arcadia property assets – but it is not yet clear whether it will be enough to fill the hole.